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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Judg. 6–8; 13–16]

SO long as that generation of the Israelites lived who had eaten of the manna in the desert, and who had seen the wonders of the Lord wrought for them, both in the wilderness and in the taking of Chanaan, they did not depart from the way of the Lord; but their children, having intermarried with the pagan nations around them, contrary to the express command of God, began to adore the idols which their wives worshipped. Then the Lord delivered them into the hands of their enemies.

They afterwards repented and turned again to the Lord their God. In this manner, falling into idolatry and returning again to the worship of the true God, they went on for several generations. Whenever they humbled themselves before God, and showed signs of true repentance, the Lord hastened to their relief. From time to time He raised up among them brave and pious men, who smote the enemy with a strong hand. These men were called Judges. Amongst them were Barac, Jephte, Samson—who was famous for his great strength—and the pious Samuel.

But the most renowned of all the Judges was Gedeon, the son of a common Israelite, who lived at the time when God had delivered the children of Israel into the hands of the Madianites on account of their sins.

The Lord sent an angel to Gedeon, as he was threshing and winnowing wheat at his father’s house. The angel said to him: “The Lord is with thee, O most valiant of men. Go in this thy strength, and thou shalt deliver Israel out of the hands of the Madianites.” Gedeon asked how he could deliver Israel, seeing that his family was the lowest in the tribe of Manasses, and that he himself was the least in his father’s house. The angel assured him that God would be with him, and that the Madianites should be cut off to a man.

Soon after this the Madianites crossed the Jordan with a large army, and encamped in the valley of Jezrael. But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gedeon, and he sounded the trumpet, and calling together the Israelites, formed an army of thirty-two thousand men and drew them up in battle array. Before commencing the attack Gedeon said to God: “If Thou wilt save Israel by my hand, I will put this fleece of wool on the floor; if there be dew on the fleece only, and it be dry on all the ground beside, I shall know that by my hand, as Thou hast said, Thou wilt deliver Israel.” And it was so. The next day he asked God that the fleece might be dry and the ground wet with dew. And God did as Gedeon requested.


Fig. 38. Type of Philistine (ulasati). Egyptian Sculpture. (After Maspero.)

But the Lord spoke to Gedeon and told him that his army was too great, and that the Madianites should not thus be delivered into his hands, lest the children of Israel should glory, and say that they conquered by their own strength.

And the Lord commanded Gedeon to speak to the people and proclaim in the hearing of all that whosoever was fearsome or timorous should return home. And the army hearing this, twenty-two thousand men retired from the field, leaving only ten thousand to meet the enemy. The Lord spoke again to Gedeon, telling him that there were still too many soldiers. “Bring them to the waters”, He said, “and there I will try them.”

He then told Gedeon to observe how the men would drink when they came to the water. “They that shall lap the water with their tongues, as dogs are wont to lap, thou shalt set apart by themselves; but they that shall drink, bowing down their knees, shall be on the other side.” The number of those who had lapped the water from the hollow of their hand, in order to save time, was three hundred men; all the rest of the multitude had knelt down to drink at their ease.

Gedeon kept with him only the three hundred who drank the water from the hollow of their hand: the rest he sent to their homes. He then divided the three hundred men into three companies, and gave them trumpets in their hands, and empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. And he said to them: “What you shall see me do, do you the same; I will go into one part of the camp, and do you as I shall do.”

Gedeon and the three hundred men who were with him approached the enemy’s camp at the midnight-watch, and entering in, began to sound their trumpets and to strike the pitchers one against the other, dazzling the bewildered enemy with the sudden light of the concealed lamps. At the same time the Israelites cried out with a loud voice: “The sword of the Lord and of Gedeon.”

The sudden alarm and the fierce attack of Gedeon’s men threw the Madianites into such confusion that they turned their swords against each other and fled in all directions. Then all the tribes of Israel, seeing that victory was on their side, rose up and pursued the Madianites, cutting off their retreat on every side, so that of the whole army of one hundred and thirty-five thousand men, only fifteen thousand returned alive to their own country. Israel had peace for forty years.

The Israelites fell again into idolatry, and were persecuted by the Philistines. But an angel appeared to the wife of Manue, of the tribe of Dan, and said: “Thou shalt bear a son; no razor shall touch his head, for he shall be a Nazarite of God from his infancy, and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” When the child was born, he was called Samson.

Going to the city of the Philistines, he met a young lion; but the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, and he tore the lion to pieces. Being delivered into the hands of the Philistines, he tore the cords with which he was bound, and finding the jaw-bone of an ass, he slew with it a thousand men. Remaining over night in Gaza, the Philistines bolted the gates of the city to prevent his escape. But Samson arose at midnight, took the gates with their posts and bolts, and carried them to the top of a hill.

Dalila, a Philistine woman, after many pleadings, extracted from him the secret of his strength. “The razor hath never come upon my head, for I am a Nazarite: that is to say, consecrated to God. If my head be shaven my strength will depart, and I shall be like other men.” During his sleep Dalila cut off his hair, called the Philistines, who captured him, put out his eyes, and cast him into prison. Some time after, a great feast was celebrated in honour of the idol Dagon (Fig. 39), when more than three thousand Philistines were assembled in the house. Blind Samson, whose hair had grown again, was brought out that he might amuse them by feats of his strength. He told the boy who led him to bring him to the pillars upon which the whole house rested. Then he prayed: “O Lord God, remember me and restore to me my former strength.” Then grasping the pillars, he shook them so strongly that the whole house rocked and fell upon himself and all the people. In this manner he killed many more enemies of God at his death than he had killed during life.


Fig. 39. Dagon. Relief. Paris, Louvre.

Justice, Patience, and Mercy of God. The Chanaanites, if they had had a right will, could have learnt to know the true God by means of the wonders which He wrought before their very eyes. As, however, in spite of this, they persevered in impiety and immorality, the judgments of God overtook them, and they were rooted out by the Israelites. God’s justice was also manifested to the Israelites on account of their faithlessness, when He allowed them to be overcome and oppressed by the pagans. But He also showed mercy to them, for as often as they acknowledged their sin and turned to Him, He forgave them and delivered them from their oppressors. Even when they again forsook Him, He did not give them up, but bore patiently with them, and visited them with tribulations, whereby they might be once more converted to Him. Indeed, “O Lord, Thou art a God of compassion and merciful, patient and of much mercy” (Ps. 85:15).

Why God permits evil. God permitted some of the heathen nations to remain in Chanaan, so that His chosen people might be proved. Thus it is that God still suffers faithless and bad people to exist, both in order to give them time for repentance, and to prove the virtuous and faithful, so that their virtue and fidelity may be more meritorious.

Bad company. Man, being inclined to evil, ought, as far as is possible, to avoid associating with bad people. Evil communications corrupt good manners.

The misery of sin. He who forsakes God will be forsaken by God. “Sin maketh nations miserable” (Prov. 14:34), and not only nations, but individuals also. “Many are the scourges of the sinner” (Ps. 31:10). Just think what a scourge a bad conscience is! “There is no peace to the wicked” (Is. 48:22).

The use of trials. In their misery the Israelites turned to God. God sends trials to sinners in order to convert them.

Original sin. By these repeated falls of the Israelites we can see how corrupt and prone to evil the human heart is. This natural inclination to evil is an effect of original sin, and can only be overcome by the grace which Jesus Christ has obtained for us.

The necessity of self-denial. Even after we have been cleansed from original sin and made children of God by holy Baptism, there still remain the sinful inclinations and passions. We must unceasingly fight against these by steadily denying ourselves, or else we shall be overcome by them and be made the slaves of sin. The grace necessary for this holy warfare is given to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Mixed marriages. Holy Scripture especially reproaches the Israelites for contracting marriages with unbelievers, and for becoming thereby indifferent about their faith, and even being led into apostasy. Mixed marriages are always dangerous to faith, and they easily lead to spiritual indifference and even to apostasy. For this reason marriages between Catholics and those who are not Christians are absolutely forbidden, and are null. Even marriages between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians are dangerous, and are therefore forbidden, being only allowed by dispensation when security is given against the danger of apostasy, and for the Catholic education of the children of the marriage. A mixed marriage, it has been most truly said, begins by a spiritual divorce; for, from the beginning, those who are married are separated on the most important point, namely religion.

God governs the world. God gave the Israelites into the hands of the Madianites, for these could never have overcome them except by His permission; and when in their misery they turned to Him, He delivered them through Gedeon and gave them peace for many years. But that Israel might know that it was to God it owed the victory, He told them that if 32,000 men went out to fight, they would not conquer the enemy, but that if only three hundred fought, then the victory would be theirs. God directs the lives of nations, as of individuals, with power, wisdom, and mercy. He is Lord also over nature, and turns its powers which way soever He will, as He showed by the twofold miracle of the fleece.

Prayer obtains help in time of need. When neither life nor property was safe, and the Israelites were hunted from their homes, they turned to God and cried for help. And God heard their prayer and raised up Gedeon to be the saviour of his people.

Humility. Gedeon was humble of heart. He considered himself to be the lowest of the low, and did not trust to his own skill or strength, but only in God’s help. As soon as the twofold miracle of the fleece had convinced him that God was favourable to the Israelites, and had chosen him to save them, he confidently attacked the overwhelming host of the enemy with a mere handful of fighting men, and put it to flight. God exalteth the humble. “He that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”, says our Lord. Gedeon considered himself to be small and weak, but he did great things by the help of God. “The weak things of the world hath God chosen that He may confound the strong, that no flesh should glory in His sight” (1 Cor. 1:27).

The confidence in God shown by the three hundred. They might easily have felt disheartened, and might have said: “How can we conquer an enemy who outnumbers us by four hundred and fifty to one!” But they trusted in God’s help, followed the example of their valiant leader, and thus gained a glorious victory, in spite of overwhelming odds against them. We too, in our fight against the enemies of our salvation, ought not to lose courage, but should trust in God and say with the holy apostle: “I can do all things in Him, who strengthened me” (Phil. 4:13).

Temperance. Gedeon was to know those whom God had chosen for the battle by their self-control and temperance. For the service of God temperance and self-denial are absolutely necessary, since without these there can be no true virtue. He who does not govern himself is a slave to his evil inclinations and passions: “Better is he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh cities.”

Gedeon, the tenth type of Jesus Christ. Gedeon, as saviour of his people, is a type of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the whole world. Like Gedeon, our Lord during His early years led a humble, hidden life. As Gedeon overcame his numerous enemies with a few soldiers, so did our Lord overcome the pagan world by His few apostles and disciples, whose only weapons were the trumpet (preaching) of the Gospel, and the torches (the light) of good works.

The fleece wet with dew is, according to the holy fathers of the Church, a type of the Incarnation of the Son of God. His human nature taken from the purest of creatures is the white fleece; the Divine Person of the Son of God descending and uniting himself to it, is the dew. Thus it is said (Ps. 71:6): “He (God) shall come down like rain upon the fleece.”

The fleece left dry is a type of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady. Even as this fleece remained dry when all the ground around was wet, so was Mary alone preserved from the stain of original sin, which adheres to everyone else.

The Goodness of God. God chose Samson before his birth, and therefore without any merit on his part, and gifted him with many graces, especially that of superhuman strength, in order that by him the enemies of Israel might be punished and humbled. This God did when Israel had not repented and was still persisting in idolatry. With preventing care He showed the Israelites by the call of Samson, that though they were unfaithful to Him, He had not forsaken them, but could and would free them from their degradation if only they would turn to Him.

The Mercy of God is shown by this, that God forgave Samson his sin when he repented of it in captivity and misery, and restored to him the gift of supernatural strength, which he had lost by his own fault. God not only forgives the repentant sinner his sin, but restores to him the lost grace of justification, and revives all his merits.

Self-denial. During all his life Samson practised self-denial, for he abstained from wine and all intoxicating drinks. But one irregular desire brought the hero Samson to his fall. This should warn us to suppress promptly every sinful movement. St. Ambrose says: “The strong and powerful Samson strangled a lion, but he could not strangle his own passions. He broke the bonds of his captors, but he could not break the bonds of his own lusts.” If such a strong hero could be so weak, how great care ought we to take not to allow our passions to obtain a mastery over us. Our Lord Himself warns us: “Watch ye and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (New Test. LXIX).

Samson, the eleventh type of Jesus Christ. The rough, warlike period of the Judges possessed its types by which the future Saviour of Israel and the whole world was foreshadowed. Samson and Gedeon were both types of our Lord. St. Augustine says of Samson: “He acted like a strong man, and suffered like a weak man. I see in him both the strength of the Son of God and the weakness of man. In those great and wonderful things which he did he was a type of Christ.” His birth was announced by an angel: so also was the Birth of Jesus Christ. He overcame a lion: Jesus Christ has overcome the infernal lion. He fought and conquered, all alone, and with an ignoble weapon: Jesus Christ fought and conquered, all alone, by the despised Cross. He was betrayed for money, was given up to the enemy by the men of his own tribe, and was bound and mocked: thus was it with Jesus. Samson gave his life for his people, doing his enemy much injury by his death: Jesus offered Himself up of His own will, and by His death overcame sin and Satan. Samson lifted up and carried away the gates and bolts of Gaza: Jesus Christ, by His resurrection, threw open the gates and burst asunder the bolts of the grave.

Consequences of mortal sin. Samson, from his youth up, led an austere life, consecrated to God. He was a soldier of God, a hero of the faith, and a saviour of his people, as long as he remained true to his holy state and corresponded with grace; but when he formed a friendship with a heathen woman, and by so doing forsook God, he in his turn was forsaken by God, and fell into the hands of his enemies, who oppressed and degraded him, and made him a slave. Thus it is with those Christians, consecrated to God by Baptism, who yet obey their sinful passions and separate themselves from God by mortal sin. There falls on them the sleep of spiritual sloth, they are bound with the bonds of sin, they lose all their strength, i. e. the grace of God, they become spiritually blind, and fall into the slavery of sin and bad habits.

APPLICATION. I dare say you think it horrible and inconceivable that the Israelites, in spite of all God’s benefits, visitations and warnings, should have proved faithless to Him and have broken the covenant sealed with Him! But give a glance at your own life. Have you never been faithless to God? Have you never fallen back into your former sins? Have you always kept the promises you made to God, and acted up to your resolutions? You will often fall from weakness, but try not to offend wilfully and intentionally.

In your Confirmation you were consecrated and fortified to be a soldier of Christ. You must therefore fight courageously against the enemies of your salvation. Practise self-control, and pray humbly for God’s help, and you will conquer them.

Let Samson’s story teach you this: “He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

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